I found something out today (well, several days ago, actually… more on that momentarily): There are levels of Right Wing realness to the “Obamagate” hashtag on Twitter, differentiated by whether people spell it #obamagate or #obaMAGAte. I’ve tried making sense of it, the capitalization serving as a cute wink to broader ideological positions within the framing of the already-batshit crazy, utterly aimless virtual witch hunt, but what’s the point? Even in a day where everyone has more time than normal, it’s a waste of time—a waste of my time—which is why the above cartoon, from the “Wondermark” series by David Malki, makes a lot of sense. It’s pointless, but it’s hard to turn off because of how seemingly vital it can feel. I opened a Twitter account amid the pandemic for the purpose of following a few voices I respect, keeping tabs on local politics, and maybe even connecting with a few people along the way. It’s been trickier maintaining that intention than I’d imagined.
Switching gears, I’ve recently read a few articles which touch on various definitions of success. Joel Anderson’s “Michael Jordan Is Exactly Who I Thought He Was” revolves around ESPN’s new MJ docuseries and features this quote about Jordan’s relationship with the sport he mastered. “His self-esteem has always been, as he says, ‘tied directly to the game’ […] Without it, he feels adrift. Who am I? What am I doing?” The second article is a 2019 interview with music critic Jessica Hopper, which touches on “how our personal metrics for success evolve over time.”
“Early on, my sense of success was totally external. Now it is almost entirely internal, but there is an awareness of—it’s not so much that I’m making an argument in the writing where I want or need people to agree with me or appreciate it or anything like that, but that I’ve made a very robust argument, the best argument I can, the best descriptions I can, the best vocation that I can. But it’s still accessible to people; people can find themselves in the work. That there are still a lot of ways into the work and the understanding, that it isn’t purely my understanding, that it’s not myopic.”
Jordan’s measure of success has almost solely built upon an ability to perform successfully at a very specific task. For Hopper, that success comes as a measure of wholeheartedness. The little Buddha in my mind points to the impermanence of Jordan’s target: Take away the basketball and is there a self, let alone any sense for self-worth, value, or esteem? On the other side of that, I’m attracted by the idea Hooper laid out.
Today I had a long conversation with my friend Paul, during which we talked about the broad feelings of grief that were mounting up during this time. The above tweet led to a thread of individuals voicing their heartache, not just over jobs lost, but entire identities. Think about that: You’ve worked your entire adult life to become a journalist, or an event planner, or a zoo keeper, and that job might no longer be a thing.
Take away the basketball and is there a self?
It’s been a little over a week since I began processing those thoughts and in that time so much has happened. Another police murder of a black man in Minneapolis became the spark that lit a flame to this already sputtering zeppelin of a country.
Some jobs might not come back from this and that is tragic. The same is true for entire careers, passions, and ways of life, too. But entire lives aren’t coming back from this either. And more and more frequently that earlier question of success brings with it its own sense of grief. What once seemed important might not have ever been truly so. Measures of personal success or achievement or value or worth rendered inconsequential when the body of our country is so hungry for change and hurting so badly. To watch a death of dreams in real time is a strange thing, particularly so as we’re simultaneously bearing witness to an awakening of something yet unknown in its place. My faith is challenged hourly. How can this turn into anything but more pain and loss and tyranny? In the grieving process, the anger stage might have only just begun.